Attorney Who Transferred Funds from Elderly Clients Without Prior Approval Is Disbarred

Florida court disbars an attorney who borrowed money from one elderly client and transferred funds from two other elderly clients to pay himself attorney's fees without prior approval. Florida Bar v. Horton (Fla., No. SC17-782, Aug. 29, 2019).

Attorney Dennis Horton drafted a revocable living trust for an elderly client that named himself as a 50 percent beneficiary. Mr. Horton also borrowed money from the client without advising the client to seek independent advice or executing a promissory note. Acting as an agent under a power of attorney for another elderly client, Mr. Horton transferred money from the client's account to a trust account. When the client died, Mr. Horton withdrew the money purportedly as payment for attorney's fees and work as a personal representative, even though he was not yet appointed personal representative. Mr. Horton also transferred money to himself from a third elderly client as payment for work performed for the client without getting approval from the client or the court.

A referee investigated Mr. Horton for professional misconduct and found he violated rules regarding business transactions with clients, gifts to himself, dishonesty, and holding client funds in trust. The referee found Mr. Horton was remorseful and had attempted restitution and recommended he be suspended for 24 months. Mr. Horton argued he did not act dishonestly.

The Florida Supreme Court disbars Mr. Horton, finding he had "demonstrated a pattern of misconduct involving multiple clients over a period of approximately two years." According to the court, "the record in this case clearly supports a finding that Horton deliberately or knowingly engaged in dishonest and deceitful conduct" by transferring funds from his clients to himself without court approval. The court also determines there is no evidence that Mr. Horton showed remorse for his conduct.

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